Homeward bound

I stayed in Derry for over a week. After the decision not to go round Ireland was made, I decided to leave the boat for a weekend trip home. The weather was looking unsettled and I wouldn't be travelling too far anyway. When I got back I headed out to Greencastle to prepare for setting off the following day. The weather was showery and overcast but there was wind forecast for the following days. As I approached the wind turned easterly, contrary to the forecast. That meant that on the free pontoon outside the harbour, things got a bit rolly. It wasn't comfortable but I trusted the forecast when it said the wind would ease and come into the northwest. Kevin and Patrick arrived to visit and we went off in the car for a visit to Culdaff, a spot Kevin had recommended me visiting as there was a new pontoon at nearby Bunagee pier. We checked out the small pontoon and had a pint in McGrorys before heading back for takeaway pizza from Rosatos. By the time we got back to the boat the wind had eased and the motion more comfortable on board. Previous crew will remember how grumpy this skipper gets if he can't sleep due to motion on board.

The night wasn't great as the swell still made it in a little so I didn't sleep too well. But at 8am I was up to take the last of the tide out of Lough Foyle. The wind was light which made it easier to manoever out of the tight space I was moored in. Setting out into the channel I found rollers coming into the Lough, probably amplified by the tide going out. As I planned to turn into the wind to raise sail, I realised that the rollers were pretty big and would make raising the sail tricky, if not dangerous. Looking at the horizon further out I could see the rollers there were even bigger so I decided to abandon the effort and turned around. I surfed the rollers back to Moville where I anchored and had a rest. The sea there was calm and I considered staying the night and trying again the next day. I had a look at the UK forecast and it gave a sea state of moderate or rough for the next two days so I knew I was going nowhere.

I decided to move up to Derry for the night and had a great sail in gusty conditions on flat calm seas. I spent the afternoon doing jobs on board and went for a long walk around town. The next day I cycled along the waterfront, over the high roadbridge, and along the cyclepath to the former Ebrington Barracks. I busied myself trying to repair non functioning back brakes on one of the folding bikes. In the end I had to find a cycle shop to get the cable replaced. As the afternoon developed the winds eased a bit as forecast and at 5.30 I set off back to Moville to anchor for the night. Again, I had a good sail in gusty conditions but a really calm night anchored off the pier in clearing skies. I had a forecast for high pressure developing and favorable winds the next day so I set off at 8.30. There were some rollers in the entrance but much easier than the previous day. I had 12 knots of wind on the beam so comfortable sailing once I cleared the Lough. Moving away from land the winds eased a bit and I set the cruising chute to keep us moving. My destination was Rathlin or maybe further, depending on conditions and tide. I had a light current against me which slowed me a little but by the time I reached Giants Causeway the tide started to turn in my favour and by Fair Head I had 6 knots with me as I turned south. The wind had died by this stage so I was motoring on flat seas towards Glenarm. The tide was pushing me well so I decided to pass the marina and move on to Larne Lough where I could anchor for the night. I had not been in there before but it was a welcome spot to spend the night after a long day on the move. Over 50 miles covered in 11 hours.

The following morning I was going to Portpatrick in Scotland to meet Jim and Delores Shiels who were to sail over from Carrickfergus on their boat Orlando. It was a glorious morning and after pottering on the boat I followed the final game in the Ireland Australia rugby test series as I headed out. Luckily I had signal until the end and we got the result I was hoping for. The sea was flat calm all the way across with no chance of sailing. I slowed down a bit for the last two hours as the entrance is shalow and I didn't want to arrive until an hour or so after low water. As I approached the entrance I could see Orlando ahead of me. I had not been in Portpatrick for years but it is described as a gap in the rocks. As I approached I lined up the leading marks to go in but it felt anxious having the rocks to close to me on either side. I crawled in with little under me and was glad for the welcoming beer with Jim and Delores once safely tied up. The harbour was busy with visitors, it being a fine saturday for those in Belfast to make the short crossing. We had a good chat and even better grub before heading to bed at a reasonable time.

Sunday morning was sunny and windless. After breakfast I went off for a wander along the cliffs to the south of Portpatrick before returning to visit the quiet streets of the village. I provisioned up a bit and prepared for the off. We were going to head to anchor off the Copeland Islands for the night and left after 11am. Initially there was no wind but half way across I saw the wind up to 8 knots so I put up the cruising chute. It was slow sailing at between 2.5 to 3.5 knots, but very relaxing on smooth seas. It rose to 10 knots as we approached the islands and being from the southeast, I radioed Orlando that the forecast was for the same overnight and the anchorage is exposed from this direction. So we decided to alter course for Bangor. I wasn't too worried as we were sailing well at over 4 knots by now and enjoying the wonderful conditions.

All were happy when we arrived into Bangor as the last 10 miles were very pleasant relaxing sailing on smooth seas. Forecast for the coming days showed very little wind so we were happy to take whatever opportunity we could get. A dinner in the cockpit of Suckin' Diesel was full of stories and sailing dreams, but mostly reconnecting with fellow lovers of the sea. The following morning we had a lazy breakfast and I got a few little jobs done on the boat. I had discovered that the wing for the hydrovane self steering was touching the wind generators which had been lowered during the winter. So I tried lowering the hydrovane more into the water to see if that helped. I will try it out over the next few weeks but I feel that I will need to buy a shorter wing to avoid the problem recurring.

Once the jobs were done Jim and Delores started to think about heading back to Carrickfergus but before that, Delores was persuaded to try boat handling in the marina. She had wanted to do it in the past but never gor around to giving it a go. Maybe hearing about Anne helming Suckin' Diesel gave her a push. So with me as crew and Jim as coach, we berthed the boat a few times. I would like to think she became more confident at it as time went on and I hope she does it more in the future. Anyway, soon enough it was time for them to head home and me to take the tide south. On leaving the marina I found 8-12 knots of wind from the northeast so I was able to sail close hauled at first before turning south to go through Copeland Sound. At that stage, with the wind being more behind me, I put up the cruising chute and was sailing at 3.5 -4 knots but sadly that didn't last and soon enough I was back to motoring on glassy seas. I passed Ardglass, preferring to anchor instead at Coney Island, just to the south of it. When you are single handing, it is easier to anchor and besides I can save a few quid as well. The bay was well protected and, though the holding was reported to be poor with a rocky bottom, in light winds I never moved. I had dinner watching the end of the Spain and Portuguese World Cup matches and saw a brilliant red sunset just before heading to bed.

I slept really well after the 6 hour trip down and woke refreshed and ready for a longer trip to either Skerries or Malahide. In the morning I managed to find the solution to an autopilot issue which had been irritating me for ages, so that was good. But there was very little wind again as I headed off. Seas were smooth and the wind never rose enough to help push the boat on. I decided to sail straight for Malahide where I could get a few jobs done before heading home. It was a long 11 hour motor further depleting my diesel tank which was close to empty. A good trip overall but not enough sailing. At least the boat went well, not too much broke and weather was pleasant.